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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Mar 16

Fix a Leak

Posted on March 16, 2018 at 10:46 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Fix a Leak Week 2018A major pipe in my Novato home opted to commemorate the 10th annual Fix a Leak Week a little early by spewing water all over the hardwood floors in the kitchen. Oh, the pain! Plumbers located the culprit, fixed the violation and informed me that it could happen again.

You see, my house was built in the early ‘50s when galvanized pipes were the choice for water conveyance. Over time galvanized pipes can rust from the inside out making for thin pipes. Since water needs pressure to reach our faucets, that pressure can play havoc and create holes in very old plumbing. To this I can now attest. The outcome of my pipes’ Fix a Leak Week festivities is I’ll be replacing not only the damaged hardwood floors, but also the galvanized pipes in the house. Did I mention the pain?

This was a major leak, but even less obvious minor leaks can add up. How about your home? Leaks could be coming from an outside faucet or an occasional drip from a bathroom sink. Those tiny drips can surprise you with major water losses. Those of you who are math fans might enjoy visiting the USGS drip calculator to figure out just how much water is wasted by three tiny drops of water in a minute—and rarely are drips that few and far between. 

There is another common type of leak in our homes that is not as easily identified. Can you guess? It is known as the silent leaker and consumes vast quantities of water without so much as the tell-tale drip sound experienced with faucets. The culprit can be found in the upper portion of our toilets. There you may find a seal that is ill-fit or worn out and does not seat on the flange securely, thus allowing water to seep into the lower bowl undetected. The lower bowl is constructed to allow this water to slip quietly down the drain unbeknownst to you. Fortunately, there’s a simple test you can do to check for these silent leaks.

While working at MMWD, I recall getting an occasional phone call about toilets automatically flushing without anyone in the room. This is a case where the leak is more than an occasional drip. A leaking toilet can waste more than 200 gallons of water a day. That is a lot of water considering an average bathtub filled halfway is equivalent to 40 gallons of water. That means you could take five baths a day with what is going down the drain. Or, for those who prefer showers, assuming your showerheads emit two gallons of water per minute, you could shower for more than 1½ hours every day with those 200 gallons of water. Is your head swimming yet?

And speaking of swimming, uncovered swimming pools lose a phenomenal amount of water due to evaporation. How much? The number of inches of evapotranspiration we post each week for the Weekly Watering Schedule is also the number of inches of water your uncovered pool is losing. If your pool leaks, you may be losing even more. Many pools have automatic fills to keep the water at the correct level, which keeps you in the dark that water loss is occurring. 

This Fix a Leak Week, I hope your curiosity will send you on a fact-finding mission around your property. MMWD’s How to Be a Leak Detective brochure can help you get started finding and fixing these water-wasters.


Anonymous User
March 16, 2018 at 12:49 PM
Hi Charlene, Unfortunately, You're probably ready for a copper pipe upgrade. This can be expensive, but may save you money in the long run. As I remember, this is a rental house, so you're probably making some money on it. I'd like to recommend somebody but I don't know of any since I remodeled my place 30 years ago and changed everything to copper. Your former irrigation student, your last class , Bob Hansen
Anonymous User
March 19, 2018 at 11:51 AM
Hi Bob. Yes I do remember you very well. You always had great ideas and open to sharing your home with us. Thanks for your suggestions here. We used PEX when building this house and I need to contact a few plumbers in Marin to see if they are familiar with it, if it is code in Marin, etc. Always a challenge, but how boring life would be without! Good to hear from you! Always, Charlene

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